Grand Rapids Tests First Rural Autonomous Shuttle

The town launched a five-vehicle fleet aimed at improving mobility for residents in the rural community.

2 minute read

November 30, 2022, 10:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

People examining parked goMARTI vans at launch event

goMARTI / goMARTI vans

Grand Rapids, Minnesota became the first rural U.S. community to test an autonomous shuttle system with the launch of a fleet of five Toyota Sienna vans equipped with autonomous driving technology by May Mobility.

According to an article by H. Jiahong Pan in the Daily Yonder, “These vans took to the road in September, and for the following 18 months they will navigate around Grand Rapids, located in northern Minnesota, in conditions unfamiliar to them: snow, extreme cold, and lots and lots of trees.” The autonomous vans, which come with a human driver ready to take over if needed, are free and can be requested by phone or mobile app and stop at 70 locations.

The program, if successful, could be the model for improving mobility for rural residents, particularly those living with disabilities or the elderly. “Meanwhile, communities struggle to keep up with building and maintaining the infrastructure they need to get around. Rural communities, such as Grand Rapids, often lack sidewalks on many streets, and while they want to build them out, not all of their streets are wide enough to handle them.”

Minnesota’s harsh winter weather could pose challenges to the shuttles, as could the unique needs of riders with disabilities who may require human assistance. “For now, the goMARTI operation is staffed by a number of full and part-time workers, some of whom have backgrounds in computer science.”

Similar programs may become more common in coming years, with $500 million in federal infrastructure funding dedicated to autonomous public transit development.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022 in The Daily Yonder

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